Text and photo by Kerry Colonna
A man who has not passed through the inferno of his passions has never overcome them. --Carl Jung
Of all the opinions expressed about Brendan Mullen, one of the more common assertions concerns his caustic ability to infuriate the people he held most closely in his personal regard. Such conflicts often derived during disagreements involving perceptual discrepancies, ones that people with more moderate dispositions might merely shrug off. But those prone to stubborn temperaments might become more easily frustrated and find their relationship to Brendan somewhat challenged. Compromise was not part of Brendan’s nature. Perhaps for this reason he tended to gravitate to those who also resisted making concessions to their intrinsic beliefs, so long as the boundaries of their disagreements remained clearly delineated.
Jungian thought advises that “in order to minimize the fear of life while at the same time minimizing the fear of death, a compromise must be sought.” Brendan was intimately familiar with this paradox. He chose to resist taking refuge in the mediocrity of compromise partly through associating with other unyielding individuals, even when there was little in their characteristic interests which they seemed to share. He also understood, whether directly influenced by Carl Jung or his own keenly tuned intuition, that "everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”
Throughout the last ten years of the twentieth century, Brendan sought to shed his private demons by regularly attending lectures by the gnostic philosopher Stephan Hoeller. Dr. Hoeller exposed him to a range of esoteric and occult doctrine, not so much from a supernatural or paranormal perspective, but from enigmatic psychological sources relating to Hoeller's interpretations of Jungian analytical psychology. While Brendan wasn't an avid follower, he could easily distill Jung's major tenets into their fundamental essence. He took particular notice of the Jungian archetype defined as the Shadow, "the dark, rejected aspects of our being" that remain "unconscious, repressed, undeveloped and denied." This reverberated with Jung's awareness that "we cannot learn about ourselves if we do not learn about our Shadow, so therefore we are going to attract it through the mirrors of other people."
Brendan had a natural talent for assessing such insights, initially through his club experiences at the Masque and later with even deeper reflection in written oral histories and pictorial vehicles which demonstrated his distinctive quality for introspective communication. His approach had been somewhat shaped by a semi-occult cultural movement known as psychogeography, partly deriving from Dada and Situationist activities. As the guiding force behind Situationist International, Guy Debord described psychogeography as "the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals." During his many visits to my home, Brendan would periodically inquire if I'd acquired any new books on the Situationists or by Debord. He'd encountered psychogeography in action during a trip to France in 1968 when the Situationists organized anarchistic proto-punk street activities in the form of general wildcat strikes which resounded with dramatic disruptions to civic conduct and radical disturbances to social order. The extreme irreverence from such collective agitation strongly resonated with Brendan as he continued an uneasy tour along the Mediterranean coast. He ultimately set up residence in a cave, replete with armchair and desk, where he made journal notations and kept track of his recent contacts. Following a careless indiscretion with the young daughter of the local mayor, he was unceremoniously deported back to England on charges of vagrancy.
Brendan routinely chose to chronicle events in the form of an oral history, the method of interviewing individuals as a means of drawing out hidden insights based on personal recollections and reflective impressions. He had a knack for recognizing the Shadow in himself, and when he conducted his interviews and edited transcripts, he could more easily identify the outrageous behavior in others as a defiant means of challenging convention and inciting a form of creative catharsis in response to unwanted persuasions. Although he attempted to remove much of his own direct commentary, he could still elicit stern objections from those who might be less comfortable with their own Shadow or the way it may have seemed subjectively portrayed. Some who had confided in Brendan became resentful of how they appeared in print, much to Brendan's anguish and dismay.
I once asked Feral House publisher Adam Parfrey what was his proudest accomplishment, and he replied, without hesitation, Lexicon Devil: The Fast Times and Short Life of Darby Crash and the Germs. The featured credit belongs to Brendan, with additional participation from Don Bolles and Parfrey himself. Each contributor held fast to his own importance in the success of the project, as their efforts to expose the occulted, unconsciously hidden impulses which shaped their central character were strikingly effective. The radically abusive and self-destructive behavior of Darby Crash underscores certain unstable, latent factors transformed by his unrequited passions. Brendan can be credited with orchestrating many of these turbulent threads into a more fully coherent and psychologically cohesive manifestation.
Kenneth Anger's Hollywood Babylon and the oral biography Edie by Jean Stein and George Plimpton were among Brendan's more openly acknowledged literary influences when collaborating with Marc Spitz on We Got the Neutron Bomb: The Untold Story of L.A. Punk. One could also add Slash magazine editor Claude Bessy to Brendan's repertoire of inspirations, as should be apparent from Brendan's short-lived 1978 Slush parody and his 1994 autobiographical musings which accompanied the Live From the Masque 1978 CD in a 15-page booklet reminiscent of Bessy's fractured, serpentine style. When I planned a 1996 trip to visit Bessy in Barcelona, Brendan made sure I was equipped with a tape recorder and a carefully prepared list of concise questions in order to capture Bessy's candid responses for some vague prospect that Brendan held for the future. One of Brendan's unrealized projects was to publish Bessy's prose-poems from Hallelujah! The Madness Is Spreading! along with other freeform psychogenic writings with an extended biographical introduction sourcing Bessy's major influences and critical precedents. Bessy arguably may have affected Brendan's own characteristic style, although Brendan would be reluctant to admit as much, as he so unyieldingly placed such a high value on untainted authenticity.
Oftentimes Brendan resisted scrutinizing viewpoints that differed from his own way of interpreting something as genuine. The archaic practice of alchemy is a subject I knew little about until Brendan himself outlined its principal doctrines as informed by the lectures from Dr. Hoeller. Over the past decade, I occasionally attempted to engage Brendan in some of the insights I'd formulated about these concealed practices, particularly with regard to the Philosopher’s Stone as a biochemical process for facilitating psychic transmutations through altered states of consciousness. Brendan would become easily miffed and was quick to ridicule my convoluted molecular assumptions and incomplete theories about biophysics and chemosynthesis, terminating the conversation with the impatient yet concise declaration that alchemy was simply about transformation. I was intrigued to hear that shortly before his death he'd reached out to engage yet another estranged friend in reconciliatory conversation, and once the dialogue achieved a stable equilibrium, he confided how he'd recently been researching alchemy with renewed intent and in much more depth than he'd ever previously attempted. This was with one of several people whom he'd specifically sought out over the course of the days leading up to his 60th birthday, perhaps in order to celebrate in exactly the way he chose: one-on-one with those who still held strong, meaningful ties yet maintained unresolved interpersonal conflicts requiring their own discrete process of transformation.
On a recent drive across town, Brendan and I debated the merits of capital punishment. Brendan was adamant that the most egregious crimes needed to be dealt with through the harshest of punishments, while I argued that execution would preclude the possibility for individual redemption. Brendan was unconcerned with the unilateral benefits that redemption might reap and refused to recognize how an act of remission could offer any compensatory solace for a truly reprehensible act. After a lengthy discussion in which neither of us was willing to yield, I hastily suggested that it would be careless to dump our errant problems onto another ontological dimension which we knew nothing about, and with this metaphysical dilemma Brendan finally gave pause. Although my comment surfaced during an attempt at ironic levity, Brendan seemed willing to consider that there may be a continuum to psychic energies which might be better to resolve on the material plane where they first deviated. He seemed intent on putting this into practice in his own life, as is apparent from some of the recent testaments by those who remained closest to him.
Brendan's concept of reconciliation had broadened considerably toward the end of the ‘90s after one of his earliest childhood friends had journeyed to Los Angeles to seek out his company. He was surprised to see that his middle-school chum Ivan Burke had become a curate at St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Birkenhead, invested with the care of parish souls near Liverpool. Because of his friend's muscular physique, accentuated by a tightly fitting Lacoste pullover, Ivan appeared as if he'd spent every bit as much time in the gym as in church, and he was subjected to the torments of Brendan's relentless teasing and lightly veiled sexual innuendo. Ivan patiently and forthrightly addressed each and every affront, and Brendan's mischievousness quickly succumbed to a mood of subdued regard and honored esteem as he began to draw parallels to the ascetic aspects of abstinence and self-discipline as rigorous disciplines comparable to some of the gnostic methods for personal transcendence. Brendan's concept of spirituality had been growing more complex, and he permitted matters of faith to include religious principles previously rejected, provided that the interpretation and intent deriving from such belief systems were clearly reflected in one's particular actions. Shortly following this visit, Brendan learned that Ivan had traveled to America for consultation about an incurable cancer. Ivan went out of his way to share some of his last remaining days with the person who'd made such a strong impression on him at an early age.
Brendan had quietly confessed to an uneasy self-consciousness because of his incomplete formal education. He first left home at age 14 for several months, followed by additional absences of increasing length prior to completing the requirements for graduation, partly to avoid unreasonable expectations and the strict discipline imposed by his intolerant schoolmaster father. He expressed embarrassment that much of his earliest cultural exposure came from encounters on the streets of London or filtered from popular sources such as Frank Zappa who referenced avant-garde influences from figures like Karlheinz Stockhausen. He came to learn about playwright Harold Pinter and artists Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud through his rogue consorting with Chelsea's David Litvinoff in 1967. Litvinoff rose to underground prominence in the "swinging London" scene largely through chameleon associations with the independent-cinema and pop-rock elite who haunted the Robert Fraser Gallery, and with certain East End rough trade which interfaced with mobster Ronnie Kray's sadomasochistic mayhem and insatiable homosexual appetite for younger prey. Litvinoff actively sought out the street life within Brendan's transient circle, both to procure for a shadowy clientele as well as to satisfy his own various interests. He mentored Brendan with colorful conversations about London's furtive psychedelic culture while offering him his first exposure to the oedipal complexes and cryptic rants of Jim Morrison's more disquieting early songs in exchange for Brendan's own street wit and encyclopedic familiarity with the blues. Litvinoff was to be the subject of another of Brendan's unrealized literary projects which he'd hoped to facilitate through encouragement, if not outright peer approval, from the visionary psychogeographer Iain Sinclair, who'd already amplified much of Litvinoff's personal mythology in his own brief yet mystifying chapter from 1999's Rodinsky's Room. Brendan believed that this could be the project that would finally loosen the typecasting grip that the Masque seemed to hold on his public reputation.
Above everything else, Brendan had longed to be remembered as a serious musician. If his knowledge of music seemed vast, you could be certain that he also knew who was drumming behind whatever obscure group of musicians he sourced during any of his tireless monologues. He repeatedly cited Hal Blaine, John Densmore and Kevin Haskins among his more prominent influences, but he could tailor this list to accommodate whatever discriminating taste he was specifically addressing at the moment. In spite of an aggressive infection to his inner ear in the 1990s causing substantial loss to his hearing, Brendan scheduled regular jam sessions where he'd drum along with whoever would show up at a prescribed hour to a friend's converted garage. Although he covertly harbored a desire to add his percussion to a select group of accomplished musicians, he'd never turn down the opportunity to play with whatever novel accompaniment came his way, even after painful complications from spinal nerve herniations afflicted him with ever-increasing physical distress.
Despite the odds, Brendan was growing old, and he privately rebelled against this merciless inevitability. His beloved and boundlessly patient companion, Kateri Butler, had done her best to prepare him for old age by encouraging his efforts in writing and helping him establish a new career through publishing. She also provided him with a nurturing home and comfortable working space which was always open to an endless succession of stimulating company and distinctive characters. Still, Brendan remained stubborn; his young spirit secretly rebelled at the prospect that he could no longer play drums, and he became disillusioned with ever dwindling offers to DJ at parties and clubs. Although he grew to expand his appreciation for writing, it was not an adequate substitute for direct participation, and Brendan was quick to procrastinate when more interesting options came up for interpersonal engagement.
Sometimes Brendan allowed his creative frustrations to surface through impulsive outbursts that could instigate protracted arguments and strain the bounds of friendship. When he was plagued by his own Shadow he could more easily incite the Shadow in others. While such discord might operate to the detriment of a relationship, it could also bring about an incorporeal catharsis to an underlying crisis that could ultimately result in strengthening intimate, subliminal ties.
Carl Jung stated that "the wine of youth does not always clear with advancing years; sometimes it grows turbid." Such a muddy existence was not acceptable to Brendan. His final transformation came with sudden aggression, much like his volatile mood swings, only this time he left no room for reconciliation. He was always determined to have the last word, and for those who loved him the most this abrupt departure seems all the more rude. If Brendan was effective in challenging our Shadows, these dark inhibitions can still be reshaped from what we can learn through the mirrors of his own deliberations. In the wake of his continuing influence, we can also more fully appreciate that there will never again be anyone quite like Brendan Mullen.